Sunday, April 3, 2011

My Friend Catherine
Over the lifetime of this blog, I have written three pieces on seniors. The introductory blog:  Grandparents are Special , The Third Generation and Is "The Third Generation" Really "The Golden Age"? 

I would now like to tell you about my friend Catherine. The start of my journey with this special lady began a year ago last April when I replied to a posting on my local e-mail list. The posting title was A woman seeks help….. I clicked the posting and read………
A woman who is hospitalized at the Geriatric Center in Netivot is seeking a volunteer who can come and talk to her in English and a volunteer who can accompany her from time to time to the Lehava Center (across the road from the Geriatric Center). You can call………..

Years ago, before we made Aliyah, I worked in Shalom Village, an assisted living / nursing home in Hamilton, Ont. Canada and spent many personal hours being a volunteer visiting and running programs for the residents. I developed a very special respect and interest in the elderly.

When we made Aliyah I wanted to continue volunteering with the elderly, but because my Hebrew is poor, I wanted to visit someone who spoke English. The social services who run volunteer programs couldn’t find anyone for me to visit.

Reading the posting I immediately contacted the person who posted the note and asked for some background on this lady.

I was told her name is Catherine and she is an American who has been living and working in Israel for some time. Because of circumstances beyond her control she is now residing in the nursing home. Catherine only speaks English and she has no family living in Israel. Her sister lives in France and her son is in the states. I made arrangements to go and visit her the next day.

The nursing home in Netivot was built by the Lotto Corporation. It is a relatively new building [about 7 or 8 years old] and is beautiful. The lobby has a tasteful ceramic floor with a nice center pattern. Bright orange and red curtains and modern chairs and a couple of small tables adorn the lobby.  

In one corner there is a piano. Opposite the front door is a door that takes you out to the most beautiful gardens where the residents and their guest can enjoy the outside.

I met Catherine in the common area of her ward. This is a large room with wall decorations, photographs, background music and where the daily activities take place. There are several tables that sit eight and each person does his or her own thing.

Catherine was reading a book when I introduced myself and said I would like to visit her and hopefully we could become friends. We then went to sit in the lobby so that we could get to know each other.

She asked my how I came to know she was in the nursing home and I told her about the e-mail notice. She seemed to be very surprised but pleased.

I told her a little about myself and my family and asked her about herself and her family. Catherine came to Israel as a temporary resident in 1982 and lived with her sister Ellen and her father on Ellen’s farm. She later applied for Aliyah status.

Catherine’s professional life was amazing. During her first years in Israel, she taught English at a local elementary school.

She worked for many years as the Chief Editor of one of Ben-Gurion University's international research journals, where faculty members published their scientific articles in English for colleagues around the world to read.

She also edited and prepared copy-ready pages (in English) of entire academic books for publication by German presses -- sometimes working over a year with the Israeli authors of such books to rewrite sections into good and understandable English.

Catherine told me about her love for animals and how she would take in dogs and cats whose owners didn’t want anymore. Sick animals would be nursed back to health.

It didn’t take long to recognize that Catherine is a very intelligent and caring person. I enjoyed my visit with Catherine and asked her if it would be okay with her if I visit her again the following week. She agreed.

And so started my relationship with this amazing woman and thru her I now correspond with her sister Ellen, her son and other family members.

 Ellen told me that Catherine was much appreciated -- even beloved -- by so many faculty members in Beer-Sheva at Ben Gurion University, and also by article contributors from Hebrew University and Tel-Aviv University.

Because of the original posting on the e-mail list, Catherine found two more friends who visit with her regularly and are totally dedicated to her.

Last Thursday was Catherine 75th birthday. Her new Israeli friends made her a birthday party gathering at my home. Our little party grew from 6 to11 almost overnight. I was amazed and so pleased at the people who wanted to attend and honor Catherine.

Each of us wrote a birthday greeting and I had the family also send birthday greetings and photos. I compounded all the greeting into a special birthday book and presented it to Catherine at her party.

This is the poem that I wrote for Catherine’s book.

Dearest Catherine
What a privilege
to we had to meet you
and call you our friend.

You are a special lady
with a rich background.
Oh, how we wish
we had known you in your prime.

Leah and Ellen have told us about
your accomplishments professionally
your kindness to animals
and your love of Israel.

Today is your birthday
Mazal-Tov and Happy Birthday ad120!
May you be blessed
with better health
happiness and fulfillment.

My visits with Catherine have taught me to appreciate everyday…the good , the bad and the hard days. Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring.

Update regarding my last blog about the small Tefillin. We are still waiting to have the Tefillin checked. I have spoken to a sofer and a Rav from Chabad. Both said that they want to examine the Tefillin carefully but because they know they are very old, want to be able to give them the time they deserve. They both told me that they will check the Tefillin. When and if they do, I will write that blog.

Wishing everyone a חג פסח שמח וכשר. [a kosher and happy Pesach]